The trade-off possibilities are mind numbing.
Benefits:- Burning briquets made of compressed switch grass and crop residue along with coal, or supplanting coal entirely, will significantly lower sulfur oxide and mercury emissions (90% and 50%, respectively) for heavy industry, making it easier to meet air permit limits and/or expand production while staying within permit limits.
There's the added future attraction of being able to sell C02 emission reduction credits on the Chicago exchange, assuming the next Congress passes, and the next President signs a bill allowing EPA to oversee and regulate such a program.
Cleveland-Cliffs Inc (NYSE: CLF) announced today that it has made a significant, strategic investment in a "green" energy company that will produce high-quality, low-emission biofuel for its iron mining and processing operations, as well as other industries in Minnesota, Michigan and other Midwest states.
Cliffs acquired a 70 percent controlling interest in Rosemount, Minn.-based Renewafuel, LLC, a subsidiary of Endres Processing, LLC. Founded in 2005, Renewafuel produces high-quality, dense fuel cubes made from renewable and consistently available components such as corn stalks, switch grass, grains, soybean and oat hulls, wood, and wood byproducts.
A classic "who'd have thought this would happen" development......
Before the first full scale Cellulosic ethanol ("Ceetoh") plants are even built, prospective Ceetoh producers may have unexpected competitors for the cellulosic feedstock. That will drive up biofuel prices. Good for farmers and woodlot owners. But, considering this, perhaps our prediction of nationwide Ceetoh production coming to commercial scale by about by 2020 was too ambitious. See:- Who's Got The Ceetoh Moves? - Part 1 for details. If using biofuel from switch grass to supplant coal becomes popular quickly, - think what happens if a carbon cap drives up coal prices to far, too fast - you can just about forget Ceetoh becoming a cheap liquid fuel.
It's also important to consider what might happen to forests if this idea [bio-fuel cubes for boilers] takes off before switch grass becomes an inexpensive commodity feedstock.
The company [RenewaFuel] says burning the fuel cubes doesn't contribute to global warming because the carbon emitted was only recently stored in the plant material. Coal and gas burning, on the other hand, release carbon into the atmosphere that had been stored underground for centuries and was no longer part of the natural balance.
That's not necessarily true, says Matt Norton, forestry advocate for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. He's skeptical about the sources Renewafuel will use to harvest material for its cubes. If it relies too much on wood, it could rachet up pressure to clear forests, causing the release of carbon that had been stored there for decades.
"My fear is that wood is there and it's ready, and it's what they're going to turn to," says Norton. "And if they start consuming wood, then the claims they make with regard to carbon neutrality are not borne out. If they start consuming prairie grasses, hats off to them. This could be something we would support in a big way."
Subtext: The taconite iron ore pellets (pictured) made by Cleveland-Cliffs require heating a mixture of clay and iron ore powder to create those ball-shaped pellets shown in the photo above. This is one use to which the biofuel cubes will be put.
As a kid, this writer used to walk along the railroad tracks on which the taconite pellets were shipped from Marquette MI, south, to Chicago-area steel mills. Sometimes the ore pellets spilled out of open box cars as they went around certain bends: providing an excellent source of slingshot ammo and coloring my pockets and fingers iron ore red. Mom hated taconite when it got in the wash.
Via::Cleveland-Cliffs, and Next Energy News, "Renewafuel Pioneers Carbon Neutral "Fuel Cubes"" Image credit::University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, Taconite Pellets